Titled the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, Bill C-48 would ban tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of crude or persistent oil from stopping or unloading along B.C.’s northern coast. The prohibited area would stretch from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border.
The Senate committee on transport and communications has been hearing testimony across Western Canada over the past few weeks. Regina’s list of speakers was largely comprised of Saskatchewan politicians and industry stakeholders. Nearly all of them voiced opposition to the bill.
Lloydminster Mayor Gerald S. Aalbers says it would limit Canada’s ability to market its oil, especially if the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project remains unapproved.
“We know that there’s been a great deal of debate, discussion and waiting on a decision on that pipeline,” Aalbers said.
“So, if you eliminate the northern coast of British Columbia, namely Prince Rupert and Kitimat, the opportunities to export oil on the west side of the country to the Asian market is eliminated completely.”
At least one speaker voiced support for Bill C-48. Davide Latremouille, a fisheries habitat biologist with Skeena Fisheries, travelled from the B.C. coast to speak at Wednesday’s hearing. He says a major oil spill could mean devastation for First Nations that depend on the salmon in those waters.
“If you had an oil spill off the coast it could potentially cut out a whole population, or literally cause several populations of sockeye salmon, for instance, to go extinct,” he said.
“If they lost sockeye, for instance, it would wipe out one of their predominant food sources. And it’s not just food to First Nations, it’s their way of life. They use it in social ceremonies and to build a sense of community.”
The committee plans to hold a final round of hearings in Ottawa next week. Committee chair David Tkachuk says they’ve had a wide range of feedback to evaluate from across the country.
“We do have divisions, when we were on the west coast we heard from environmental groups, we heard from salmon fishing groups. They were very concerned about an oil spill destroying their industry,” Tkachuk said.
It remains to be seen whether the Senate will pass, amend or reject Bill C-48 before the federal election this fall.